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What to Consider When Separating or Divorcing an Alcoholic


During our decades of representing spouses and parents in their divorces and custody cases, our lawyers have learned that alcohol abuse often is a factor for the breakup of the relationship. This is perhaps not a surprise, as reports that an estimated 6.6 million children live in homes with at least one alcoholic parent. These statistics are what leads to events such as Children of Alcoholics week, which runs from February 9th-15th of this year. 

When someone abuses alcohol, nearly all facets of life and relationships are affected.  When finances, children, or emotional health are jeopardized, a divorce filing may be necessary. Before you separate, there are a few things you may want to consider and create a plan.

Alcohol Abuse May Lead to Safety Concerns for You and Your Child

First and foremost, you should safeguard your and your children’s physical safety.  While under the influence of alcohol, your spouse is much more likely to be aggressive or violent.  Being present during such violence will be emotionally harmful to you and your children, let alone put you and the children at risk for physical harm. 

While intoxicated, your spouse may choose to drive with the children in the car or put their safety at risk in other ways.   Numerous studies provide that growing up with an alcoholic parent will negatively impact the children, and there comes a time that the alcoholic needs to work towards sobriety outside of the presence of the children.

Especially with children in the home, you should have an exit plan should your spouse’s intoxication lead to violence.  When your spouse becomes violent, always call the police to ensure your and your children’s safety and to have an incident report which will assist during custody hearings.  If there is a possibility that you cannot stay in the home, then consider where you will go if you must leave unexpectedly. 

Plan a Financial Strategy If You’re Considering a Divorce

Some alcoholics are highly functioning and able to maintain employment during the work day and become intoxicated most evenings and weekends.  However, alcoholism is a disease and there is a significant risk that it will eventually negatively impact job performance. Consider getting a child support and spousal support order in place before the loss of employment.  

Review your bank, investment, retirement accounts and credit card bills regularly for substantial and irregular withdrawals or charges. Keep a copy of the latest statement at a safe location to minimize the need and cost of your attorney obtaining those documents during the divorce proceedings. 

When your spouse’s employment is terminated, you will still have most of the same monthly expenses, and your marital assets will dwindle very quickly.  An asset division as part of a divorce judgment may safeguard your use of the assets to pay the cost of living and safeguard your retirement funds.

Understand That You May Need to Pay Alimony or Spousal Support to Your Alcoholic Spouse

Depending on the length of your marriage, your spouse may request that you pay spousal support also known as alimony, due to their inability to work.  A consultation with an attorney prior to your separation allows you to create a strategy to defend against such a claim and gather evidence accordingly.  

Although Michigan law is a no-fault divorce state, meaning you do not have to show one party is at fault for the breakup of the marriage, the judge will consider fault when determining an asset division and an award of spousal support.

What to Do if Your Spouse Attempts Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

Sometimes being served with a Complaint for Divorce is the necessary wake up call for a spouse to take sobriety seriously.  If you are agreeable to reconciliation, you may consider a meeting with your spouse’s counselor and your counselor to determine reasonable expectations.  Moving back together after just one week of sobriety may be too hasty. Instead, seeking marital counseling to restore the damage that was done to the marriage will be a good option to start the healing. 

For some spouses, the years of emotional abuse and neglect prove to be too harmful and the divorce proceedings continue. Even so, proven sobriety will most likely allow the former spouse to carefully restore a relationship with the minor children.  A divorce or family law attorney can assist with drafting a parenting time order that ensures the children’s safety, continued sobriety during the visits, and a requirement to attend counseling and support meetings to ensure continued sobriety. 

Contact a Grand Rapids Divorce Lawyer to Discuss Your Options

When you are considering a divorce from your spouse or separation from the other parent of your children, call the family law attorneys at Kraayeveld Law at 616-285-0808.  We have helped many clients who were in situations like yours, and we look forward to assisting you with your divorce and child custody needs.